On Wednesday, May 28, 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General affirmed allegations that the Phoenix VA Health Care System violated patient scheduling policies to obscure delays in medical care. Investigators said that they will further scrutinize the records to identify whether or not any of the veteran deaths occurred from lengthy waits or not.
In addition, the Office of Inspector General discovered that while the Phoenix VA was reporting wait times of only 24 days, appointments actually averaged closer to four months. Furthermore, approximately 1,700 veterans who had opted for their initial appointments in Phoenix did not show up on any of the wait lists.
The investigation was initiated after retired VA physician Dr. Sam Foote accused VA administrators of falsifying records to indicate veterans were seeing doctors with marginal wait times. Dr. Foote said that up to 40 patients had died while waiting for care, all the while VA bosses were obtaining incentive pay for meeting performance goals.
The review didn’t conclude as to whether or not fraudulent scheduling practices and delayed care brought about avoidable or even premature deaths in Phoenix. Those determinations will call for further investigation before the final report is issued, sometime in August. Nevertheless, the review did find evidence to support that the sizeable delays in accessibility to care adversely affected the quality of care at the Phoenix medical facility.
Dr. Foote’s accusations sparked others to go public with comparable claims, and stimulated congressional inquiries and national backlash from veterans. Three of the top Phoenix VA officials have been put on leave.
Investigators stated that VA schedulers consistently typed appointment requests into computers and printed a screen shot without saving the information to an Electronic Wait List. The paper printouts backed up for weeks before the requests were uploaded into the computer system, and the date listed was not the original date an appointment was requested, but the actual day it was put into the system. Patients then had to wait months longer to see a doctor, delaying necessary medical attention.
Military Connection: VA Verifies Wait-Time Manipulations: By Debbie Gregory